“The best way to preserve a building is to find a purpose for it and to satisfy this purpose so well that there is no need for other change”
Almost certainly from Roman times, the hill of Rivoli, thanks to its strategic position near the Via Gallica, has always been inhabited by humans. A fortified building, the “Castrum Riuollum” is first mentioned in 1159, and the earliest illustration dating to 1609 shows a central tower surrounded by constructions of varying size while along the foothills there is a garden that softens the complex’s military appearance.
The property of the Bishops of Turin, the Castello became part of the Savoy dominion in 1247 until 1883, the year in which it was sold to the City of Rivoli.
In 1350 it was chosen as the setting for the marriage of Bianca of Savoy to Galeazzo Visconti.
When Emanuele Filiberto chose Turin as the new capital of the Duchy, and seeing Turin was still in French hands, he settled in Rivoli with his court; his heir, Carlo Emanuele, was born at the Castello on January 12, 1559, under the care and guidance of Nostradamus, invited to follow the pregnancy of the Duchess Margherita of Valois. That is why the building was modernized by the architects Francesco Paciotto and Domenico Ponsello.
The new duke, Carlo Emanuele I, entrusted the Castellamonte architects – father and son – to transform the medieval manor into a loisir residence, as illustrated on the two boards of the Theatrum Sabaudiae, a celebration by images of the city, the fortresses, the residences, and all the beauties of the Duchy.
We see for the first time the Manica Lunga, a building born to host the Picture Gallery of Carlo Emanuele I, joined to the castle by 4 tall towers and
the church dedicated to San Carlo Borromeo, which was never actually built.
The worksite was completed in 1670, and the Castello hosted other important events, such as the birthday celebrations of Christine of France, the second Madama Reale, held on February 10, 1645. The only hall that has survived from that period is the room of Amedeo VIII, on the second floor, even after the passage of the French troops of Marshall Catinat, who burned down and destroyed the building in 1690 and 1693.
Seeing it burn from Turin, the young duke, Vittorio Amedeo II, promised himself to rebuild and make even more beautiful the residence that has always been so connected to the history of the Savoy family and which he greatly loved. In fact, it was from Rivoli that he announced his rise to the Throne and his abdication in 1730 and imprisonment in 1731.
After twenty years of war, Rivoli had to be reborn, and the Sun King’s architects were consulted. The earliest projects were by the architect Michelangelo Garove, who designed the Stradone del Re, today Corso Francia, a spectacular road that leads to the new Palace. The building was enlarged and the damaged towers were demolished; the front ones were replaced by a system of double staircases, in the style of Leonardo da Vinci, which even today lead from the ground floor to the top floor, without entering the rooms. It was with Filippo Juvarra, who arrived in Turin in 1715, that the great palace project would begin to take shape, starting from Garove’s work, who had died in the meantime. The palace would become a new symbol of Vittorio Amedeo II’s absolute power, as he had also become King of Sicily. This was to be a place that could rival
other residences across Europe – though the dream remained unfinished – to be appreciated in its entirety only thanks to the magnificent wooden model by Ugliengo, the paintings of the most important view painters of the age, and other projects.
A lavish, spectacular building, without the Manica Lunga, intended for demolition, with its imposing central corpus surrounded by two identical wings, crowned by balustrades and statues in full Juvarra style. Inside, refined apartments decorated by painters from across Italy, with precious furnishings that unfortunately have been completely lost. Instead, the elegant atrium and on the first floor the imposing ballroom were never built, due to excessive worksite costs in 1734 as well as the tragic events tied to the imprisonment here of Vittorio Amedeo II.
Today we see the place where the worksite came to a halt, in the impressive open-air entrance where the base still awaits its columns, which remained in the quarries of the Valle di Susa, with the staircase that today is only single with few steps and unfinished brickwork.
In 1793 work began again at Rivoli, but the golden age had already passed. The Castello was inherited by the second child of Vittorio Amedeo III, Vittorio Emanuele Duke of Aosta, and his wife Maria Teresa of Austria-Este, and work resumed with a new architect, Carlo Randoni, who, despite everything, wished to pick up right from his first projects where Juvarra had left off.
Dating to this period is the apartment on the
second floor, with its totally renewed taste inspired by an English style, in line with new ideas brought to Piedmont by certain enlightened aristocrats, who fostered new contacts with the arrival of artisans at Rivoli.
Also dating to this period is the staircase, of which practically nothing remains, with its steps, along the wall of the inner atrium, demolished during restoration between 1979 and 1984.
During the Napoleonic period, the Castello was closed, as with the majority of other residences; many furnishings were no longer present though some were brought to Turin. The emperor decided to give the complex to Marshal Ney, Prince of Moscowa, in so far as head commander of a Legion of Honor.
With the Restoration work resumed on the part of Randoni, but by then the Castello di Rivoli had lost its importance. To cover costs, it was fractioned off and rented by the Municipality who used it as a military barracks. The decision to connect the Castello with the Manica dates to those years.
After 5 centuries, in 1883, for the amount of 100,000 lire the Castello passed from the Savoy family to the City of Rivoli, and was then rented to the army; the soldiers, who until 1909 occupied the building, devastated and damaged it while overall changing and neglecting it.
In 1909 and 1911 the castle’s ancient splendor made a brief comeback, thanks to two exhibitions, then followed by nothing. More looting and military occupation during World War II, also by German soldiers.
War bombings left profound wounds which were tentatively repaired in 1948, with the first emergency work carried out by the Genio Civile.
With the Centenary of the Unification of Italy the
Castello di Rivoli, up to then a silent and awkward presence for some, was allotted a significant amount of funding – 1 billion 120 million lire – though not enough to salvage the entire construction and thus destined to other residences. In the Manica Lunga there lived 277 evacuees, along with various small businesses: a sawmill in the courtyard, a food shop, a mechanic’s shop, and a stable.
Initial work took apart the structures in the atrium built during the military occupation, and the terracotta over Juvarra’s unfinished work was finally brought to light and cleaned.
In 1969 a proposal was made to open a casino here, as had already taken place for only two months in 1945, but nothing ever came of the idea.
In the late 1960s there was new hope for Rivoli. Funding began to arrive and the architect Andrea Bruno, whose name is tied to the complex’s rebirth, provided the first projects; almost all exterior doors and windows disappeared, damage by rain and dampness to stucco work and paintings, destroyed tapestries, rotten woodwork. The first foreseeable collapses took place in 1978, with the large vault crumbling to pieces in the grand hall on the second floor.
The Piedmont Region, after numerous warnings, decided to intervene and the complex was entrusted on an extended loan of 29 years, so as to give the Castello a public and cultural purpose. Coming to the aid of Rivoli was Marquis Panza di Biumo, an important contemporary art collector, in search of a venue where he could install a part of his collection.
In August 1979 restoration work on the Castello alone began and would last until 1984, when it opened its doors as a Museum of Contemporary Art. This work took into account its entire past, respecting its architecture and where it had been interrupted. With modern additions like the
elevator, the suspended staircase, the platform on the late 1700s vault, and the panoramic area on the third floor.
And the Manica Lunga? From 1984 to 1986 Andrea Bruno began working, but unfortunately a lack of funds closed down the worksite, which reopened only in 1996. It was in February 2000 that the building, born to host Carlo Emanuele I’s picture gallery, found its age-old splendor.
The structure was maintained with the inclusion of parts like the vault’s overturned hull-shaped steel cover or the steel and glass stairs joining the 17th-century structure.
The large windows light up the rooms of the cafeteria, which has also become a treasure trove with works from the collection, and of other Museum services. Conceived by Andrea Bruno, even the contemporaneity of the small parallel section that hosts the 2 Michelin star restaurant Combal.Zero dialogues with the past, as everywhere else at the Castello di Rivoli.